The Silicon Prairie Home Companion | Sarah Hill at Healium

In part one of my conversation with Sarah Hill, the founder and CEO of Healium, she talked about how her exposure to trauma as a journalist inspired her to create VR and AR software, powered by wearable technology, to help manage anxiety.

In this second part of our conversation, Sarah explains why she recommends starting your company as service-based as opposed to product-based, and she also discusses some of the challenges of starting a tech company in an area of the country not typically associated with technology.

More information: tryhealium,com

Sarah Hill is the CEO of Healium, a virtual and augmented reality tool for the self-management of stress powered by the user’s own brainwaves and heart rate. After 20 years as a TV reporter covering trauma, her media diet of reporting the day’s headlines ultimately made her sick. Hill developed Healium for herself as well as the 41 million others who struggle with anxiety.

Healium is a digiceutical for people to detox from what they’re consuming digitally. Healium is the world’s first biometrically-powered VR/AR immersive media channel controlled by the user’s brainwaves and heart rate via consumer wearables. Hill’s XR experiences are clinically validated in 3 peer-reviewed journals and have been viewed more than 7 million times.

She is also a former interactive TV news journalist for the NBC, ABC, & CBS affiliates in Missouri. A national Edward R. Murrow, NAB Service to America, National Sigma Delta Chi, and 12-time mid-America Emmy award-winning TV reporter, Hill has 25 years of experience building unique media franchises. She spent decades reporting about the world’s negativity and trauma in Sri Lanka, Zambia, Guatemala, Indonesia, and Congo. Healium’s roots are in virtual travel for Veterans.

DISCLAIMER: Below is an AI generated transcript. There could be a few typos but it should be at least 90% accurate. Watch video or listen to the podcast for the full experience!

Sarah Hill 0:00
Here were where we are, I’ve always been lucky to surround myself with people who are smarter than myself, people that I don’t even have to pay. So I always took early advantage in accelerator programs. And you know, we’ve been through a half half a dozen different accelerator programs over and over the years, and mentorship programs.

Alexander Ferguson 0:30
In part one of my conversation with Sarah Hill, the founder and CEO of Healium, she talked about our exposure to trauma as a journalist, inspired her to create VR and AR software powered by wearable technology to help manage anxiety. In the second part of our conversation, Sarah explains why she recommends starting your company as service based as opposed to product based. And she also discusses some of the challenges of starting a tech company in an area of the country not typically associated with technology. S I’m excited to continue our conversation now and and hear the journey that you’ve been on an RD in our first part of a conversation you talked about it wasn’t just a linear it was an exploration of one problem and seeing opportunity and connecting with others. What kind of insight can you share of maybe some of the initial hurdles that you had to overcome? Just maybe from when you were developing your first couple VR experiences of storytelling? That that kind of group has that? What can you share that helped you overcome some of those initial challenges?

Sarah Hill 1:29
Yeah, so Helium is located in a community in the Silicon Prairie. We’re in the Midwest, right between St. Louis and Kansas City. It’s a great group for for digital creatives, but a non traditional place for a tech company. When we tell people where a company is located, they’re like, Where, where is that you mean, they have technology, they’re like, they’re very surprised. They expect us, you know, to be out in the middle of a cornfield, you know, doing these experiences on our tractors. But the truth of the matter is that innovation, and technology can happen everywhere, we also have access to the internet. And, you know, the internet internet brings great minds, much as yourself through video chat to us every single day. And as a broadcaster, we, I had already spent a great deal of amount of time we conduct most of our business and video chat. Anyway, even before pandemic, so you know, the barriers to entry in developing a company in the Silicon Prairie are not as high as you would think the one barrier to entry is that there’s not a lot of access to capital or venture capital here. And that, you know, specifically you can imagine, as a young company, us going into an angel group that was historically not used to seeing a lot of, you know, technology. Certainly nothing with brain computer interfaces, you know, talking about how we’re building this platform that you’re gonna power with your brainwaves. And, you know, the reaction that you that you get, you know, from a lot of the investors, we’re sure you are young lady, you know, you go do that. And so, we quickly realized that we needed to build it, and we need to show them that, yes, you can. We are doing it. And you know, are you gonna write a check or not? So ultimately, we were able to get funding through a bunch of pitches and a bunch of knows that a lot of them came before we actually built the product. And then once we built the product, they’re like, oh, wow, you did it. We can we see what you’re talking about here. And so

Alexander Ferguson 3:53
use that to get that initial angel funding, get them on board, that MVP was kind of crucial to just show something to make that happen.

Sarah Hill 4:02
Absolutely crucial. We were trying to explain what we were doing with photos. And you know, some of these headbands, you know, hadn’t even been out yet five years ago. And now EEG this just has little three little sensors on it, but EEG, electroencephalogram, essentially listening to your brain patterns. It’s being baked into earbuds. So the form factor of that sensor is, you know, really getting tiny, which is great for us because our technology is what powers those AR and VR environments. So, you know, as the wearables get smaller, they’re being baked in into the fabric. You know, we’re rooting for those hardware hardware manufacturers. There’s all kinds of you know, brain computer interface. hardware manufacturers out there from EuroCity they have a notion, which has dry sensors that’s measuring intense. It’s worn on the back of the head. And you can control a computing environment with this device by thinking about lifting your right pinky. Sounds crazy. But no, you can actually do it. Now, this is a beta kit. EuroCity isn’t out on the market yet. But we developers are playing with it. Luke said, labs, you know, another company, based out of Korea, baked sensors into a hardware, and you can control and environment with their their sensors. So you know, all of these, this data, you know, what are you going to do with with that data? And how can you present it in a way that’s valuable for the user?

Alexander Ferguson 5:55
Can you share some of the data points of okay, we got the MVP here, you know, the funding here? And what was that in building the team? Like? Did you find the right team members first, to get it started? What what did that kind of timeline look like?

Sarah Hill 6:08
Yeah, so we started out as a company, just creating VR and AR experiences. It was a volunteer project for a while. And then we actually made it made it a company and it was our business model, we hadn’t even launched heliyon yet, because we started just learning how to create VR and AR AR experiences, and started creating some experiences for brands, Google, Facebook, and some other blue chip companies hired us to create VR and and AR experiences. And so all along the way, you know, we’re learning while being paid, you know, to do these documentaries, all around the world, we’ve released experiences and shot experiences in Congo, China, Thailand, the Netherlands, and

Alexander Ferguson 7:07
1660 videos is that, that were put into

Sarah Hill 7:10
that 360 stereoscopic videos for social social purpose films, all of our stories that we like to cover has some element of value. To the to the world, as far as you know, shining a light on people who don’t historically get coverage, whether it be people who lack mobility, veterans, we were out in Brazil with a ninja ruku tribe talking about solar energy, you know, some great experiences that that we’ve been lucky to have over the last few years. But our company didn’t start out as a product based company, it started out as a service based company. And that was really key. And we encourage other entrepreneurs to do it that way. Because not only do we get unique learnings, but we had a revenue stream that could fund our product operations. And it also equipped us with a video library, that we had the ability to use some of those assets in our helium helium experiences. So with the clients consent, if they consented, so you know, that that was helpful for us to have revenue, you know, before our product was, was actually built.

Alexander Ferguson 8:30
That’s a good tactic for others can learn of using service based revenue to grow a product company,

Sarah Hill 8:37
right, so is about two years. A year and a half to two years before we had our first beta that could actually be tested and out in the market, if memory serves me correctly. And we were, you know, a beta product for a really long time, just testing it, you know, was really buggy at first, every update that we do, we just released one, it gets better the connections getting better, and we learn to like how you have to turn off, you know, the Bluetooth on all of your devices, when you use it otherwise, you know, it can block some of those those connections. But, you know, we pivoted to product, rebranded under helium story up Studios is still out there. That’s the name of our company. And we have a DBA doing business as as helium. And we still create AR and VR experiences for brands. Some of them are biometrically controlled. Some of them are custom experiences that the brand actually wants on, on the heli Qilian platform. But we’re just excited to have the ability to tell stories in whatever form and to educate people about the therapeutic value of virtual augmented reality,

Alexander Ferguson 10:01
the concept of scaling, which now the past five years sounds like you’re already into that effort of scaling, what can you share with that process? That hurdle of Okay, so I’m sure a lot entrepreneurs are trying to figure that out. Any tidbits of tactics that you found have worked in order to scale.

Sarah Hill 10:20
Yeah. So be highly mentored here where where we are, I’ve always been lucky to surround myself with people who are smarter than myself, people that I don’t even have to pay. So I always took early advantage in accelerator programs. And you know, we’ve been through a half half a dozen different accelerator programs over and over the years. And mentorship programs. There’s a great organization called Mizzou BMS that back in 2015, took me under under their wing gave us office space, introduced us to people who could help us, you know, discern product, business model trajectory, funding sources, and they were our first board of directors, before we had a board of directors. And so that mentorship was really valuable. And you know, any entrepreneur out there find a someone in your industry, or even not in your industry, who can fill in your knowledge gaps, and tell you the stones that you need to step on to, you know, get to that that goal, whether it be a successful exit, scaling your company developing developing a product, but I really think, you know, that’s key.

Alexander Ferguson 11:44
Is there any podcasts or audio books or books that you’ve read that has helped you grow? And keep you keep yourself innovating and growing as a leader?

Sarah Hill 11:53
Yeah. So podcasts, yes, I listen to a lot of podcasts, a lot of industry podcasts primarily. And it might not have a broad appeal for your group. But I can name some for you can’t buy is a phenomenal storyteller. He’s also a journalist his way away and as well, but he talks with a lot of the decision makers creators and has his finger on the pulse of a lot lots in the XR space. So would encourage you to subscribe to the voices of VR podcast. I also, in addition to technology, I’m a person of faith. So you know, I like praise music, I listened to a lot of faith based podcast, Joel Olsteen really love his his inspiring words. Also in the technology space, if you follow Charlie pink from Forbes, he’s a great writer that that writes in that so you know, yes, pour feed myself in in all of those those areas. And beyond just podcasts and books. Here in our community we have at our shop, what’s called nerdy playdates. So some of the best ways to discover information is to play together with other technologists. And you know, a lot of places have hackathons. So you might be familiar with the concept of a hackathon. But even in hackathon, there is a pressure to create a product at the end of it like you were hacking this together with other people in a collaborative space to create a product. And it really takes out that element of play. And that element of book if I turn my army man on the side, and you know what I mean? And you put him on top of the house, he’s able to see you know, around area and this may sound really strange to someone who’s never been in a nerdy playdate. But that’s how helium really was was born was from a couple technologists playing together with storytelling, immersive media and Neurofeedback and brain computer interfaces. Look when we you know, change the video or the the the color, look how it affects their their physiology. Look at that, you know, isn’t any it wasn’t a product. It was a play time. And, you know, the more we play as adults and as technologists, the more we discover, we discover things.

Alexander Ferguson 14:44
Last question for you. Overall, what kind of technology innovations do you predict we will see in the near term the next year and in the long term? 510 years?

Sarah Hill 14:56
Yeah, so I mentioned some of them a concern EEG being baked into ear buds, that’s a given. It’s already out here right now, there are some companies that have that on on Kickstarter. I haven’t tried any of those products yet. I have haven’t gotten mine. But you know, we’d love to play with them and see how they work. The rise of 5g Obviously, which is allowing for more real time data, capture from wearables, which we have helium love, because we’re all about that the biometric data controlling the experience, sadly, the stress epidemic in the wake of COVID, and how mental health has become going to become more front and center mental health hygiene is a thing. Just like you wash your hands, we all need to be washing our brains and thinking about what are we putting into our media diets? What are we consuming digitally? And how does that make us feel? I think you’ll you’ll hear more and more people talking about their media diet and how they need to, to be cognizant of what they’re watching with their eyes on their social media feeds. You know, because some of that has the ability, important ability to inform, you know, the media is so important. I’m not saying cut off all of your social media in any way because it has the ability to tell you who to vote for who not to vote for. It has the ability to tell you there’s a tornado in your area, a child molester next door to keep you safe. You need the media. But you also need to be mindful of that media diet that, you know, hearing constantly about all the negativity in the world. And some of the things that you see on there can make you sick. And so you you really need to temper that with things like helium that have had the the ability to take you somewhere else.

Alexander Ferguson 16:49
Thank you so much, sir, for your insight of what you’re able to share. Where can people go to learn more and what’s a good first step for people to take?

Sarah Hill 16:58
Yeah, go to our website at try And a reminder that healing helium is spelled like healing. So it’s try H EALIUM. Tri Hga, Liu Feel free to reach out to us directly at Hello at try We always love love to hear from other technologists who wants a nerdy playdate. And we love to collaborate with artists out there who are creating new pieces of digital art that could have a biometric input powered with it

Alexander Ferguson 17:36
That concludes the audio version of this episode. To see the original and more visit our UpTech Report YouTube channel. If you know a tech company, we should interview you can nominate them at UpTech Or if you just prefer to listen, make sure you’re subscribed to this series on Apple podcasts, Spotify or your favorite podcasting app.



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